27 Jan 2015

UK’s economic growth powered by consumer spending

So official figures today show Britain’s economy grew in the last quarter of 2014 – the sixth consecutive quarter of positive growth and annually the fastest rate of growth since 2007. But there are reasons why we shouldn’t celebrate just yet.

While growth of 0.5 per cent is certainly respectable (better than the last reported figures for Germany and France) the figure is down from the third quarter’s 0.7 per cent, which itself was down from the 0.8 per cent the quarter before. So there appears to be a downhill pattern developing.

And 0.5 was lower than expectations for a pick up of 0.6 per cent. Okay, that’s not a huge amount but then consider the annual growth rate, which came in at 2.6 per cent. George Osborne is right to big up the fact it’s the fastest growing Western economy but even here, the Office for Budget Responsibility was – as recently as December – forecasting an annual growth rate of 3 per cent.

And here’s another problem. All the growth in the final quarter came from the services sector – everything from cinemas to supermarkets to accountancy firms – while construction fell 1.6 per cent and manufacturing was flat at 0.1 per cent.

In other words, five years on from the last election in 2010 it appears that George Osborne hasn’t delivered the balanced economy he’s been promising. Remember the march of the makers? The makers have been grounded according to these figures.

Yet again we find ourselves dependent on consumer-led growth and spending to save the day.

There’s record low inflation, thanks to a tumbling oil price, and that’s making people feel better off. And with wage growth ticking up for the first time in years, the chancellor is hoping that feel good factor will see him through to the general election. But the jury is out. If growth in the first quarter keeps on it’s current downward trajectory the narrative could get trickier for him. We won’t find that out until the end of April of course, just before the election.

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